A Seduction In Pianississimo
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Last night's PBO concert at St James' Anglican was a bittersweet experience. Rebecca did not attend. Her mother, has never seen her in a concert situation and does not understand how she enjoys the performances and how she banters with the musicians after. So I had to eat double the amount of Oreos to compensate! And the only proper way is to pry loose gently one chocolate cookie so as to be able to scrape off that glorious white filling. Lucinda Moon (centre in photo, Glenys Webster, violist on the left, Paul Luchkow, violinist, on the right, Rebecca bottom left) sat beside me after her virtuoso performance of the the Four Seasons
and told me, "I had all kinds of Australian snake stories to tell Rebecca."
I sat next to Patricia Canning (she who has the keys to the belfry) who said, "I have heard hundreds of Four Seasons
but this is the first one I have really listened to. Behind me, during the standing ovation I heard someone shout, "Thank you!" Why was this Four Seasons
different? If you have memory, and I have memory, I remember that a few years back the PBO played them with its musical director, Marc Destrubé as soloist. And it was as electrifying as last night's performance. What was different, then?
Part of that difference is in that both Destrubé's and Moon's were live performances. No fantastically recorded CD of whatever baroque orchestra you can name can ever compete (for me) with the actual performance where you can almost see the sound waves bouncing off the large floor flagstones of the church. Since Moon is not only the soloist but the director she has this delightful style of pirouetting (like a Whirling Dervish in slow motion) so she is able to nod to the musicians. In her plain long black skirt and top ( and wearing black silk bedroom slippers) Moon is in gentle command. But this is even more exciting to watch when in the many violin and cello duos (in Summer
) Moon approaches the sitting Laura Kramer and the result is as close to what I have seen of a rock guitarist sidling up to the base player for effect.
The pianississimo moments were extra pianississimo and the acoustics of St James' enabled me to listen to secondary sounds emanating from those violins that I had never heard before. And from my front row seat I noticed that in the opening Spring
, Moon, Paul Luchkow, and Michelle Speller's violins, mimicked, perfectly, singing birds with the extra help of Moon's eyelashes. They were vibrating bird wings.
But the best came last when Moon played the Winter Largo
. She had next to no ornamentation (I like mine with lots of ornamentation). She didn't play it slow (I like mine very slow). The poem that accompanies the Largo
has to do with being happily ensconced next to a fireplace while hundreds of people are outside in the rain and the cold. There was no sweetness in Moon's performance here. It was an intelligent statement of the fact, "I am in this warm place and unfortunately most of you are out in the cold."
But there was something else in Moon's performance tha I felt. With her violin she seemed to me to be also saying, "And you, please, come in from that cold and sit here, right next to me."
And so I was seduced.
A Christmas Carol - Hunks - Dogs & A Serious Camyar Chai
Friday, December 15, 2006
Yesterday morning, before Rosemary and I went to last night's performance of the Playhouse Theatre Company's A Christmas Carol
, author and Georgia Straight film reviewer John Lekich told me that I was into a rare treat of being able to see a great actor who had not forgotten the theater despite ample success in the film world. "You are going to like Alex Diakun ( Scrooge)."
With that out of the way I must say it is impossible for me to be objective about this play, or is it a musical?
As a Latin American born before globalization, eBay and Thai burritos, I like my sweet on one side of the plate, and my sour on the other. I love opera and I love film. I absolutely hate those things that Americans (and Canadians) call musicals were perfectly sane people on film or stage suddenly begin to sing for no reason at all.
With that out of the way I have to say that both Rosemary and I loved A Christmas Carol
even though the man on our right laughed even in the serious parts and the young lady in front of us (who works for Bell Telephone) was text messaging with one finger, on a screen that glowed far brighter than anything lighting designer Itai Erdal (upper, left) could shine on stage.
For us (and Rosemary never seems to like anything) it was about as perfect as a play can get. But then Rosemary has never seen a play with Dean Paul Gibson that she hasn't liked a lot. I am glad that Dean Paul Gibson is past his young hunk stage (as seen here, upper right) and was so perfect last night as both a dog and, dressed in drag, as Mrs Dilbert. If not I just might get jealous.
Joelysa Pankanea's music and her performance of the xylophone was perfect and almost Weillian in its gentle dissonance. We liked the stereo effect of having the base and xylophone on one side of the stage and Scott Hughes' manly (it's about time that men push out all those women and make this instrument their own) harp on the other. Mark Haney was just right on base but I was distracted by his fantastic face (Rosemary brought binoculars). He looked like an officer in the Army of the Confederate States of America.
Mara Gottier's design of Patti Allan's costume of the Ghost of Christmas Past was perfectly over the top and would have delighted my granddaugher Lauren (4) who would have seen her, as I did, as the Teletubbies' long lost mother.
After so many years in Vancouver, part of the fun of going to a play is to see so many on stage that I have photographed in the past. It was curious to see Camyar Chai (bottom, right) play it straight and serious.
I seriously think I like him more as funny. But then how can anybody compete (even Alex Diakun) with Dean Paul Gibson? I cannot wait for next year's new Playhouse Theatre Company production of Mother Goose
with Gibson and Christopher Gaze, directed by Morris Panych.
Maiko Bae Yamamoto (below, left) as the Chost of Christmas Future, managed to walk on those huge stilts without flubbing her lines. A Christmas Carol
is on until December 23. I regret not having taken my Rebecca (9) as she would have enjoyed it.
Four Seasons In Three Churches
Thursday, December 14, 2006
This Friday at 7:30 the Three Musk
eteers will be sitting at the front row pew of St James'Anglican Church, 303 Cordova in East Vancouver. This special concert by the Pacific Baroque Orchestra
will feature Vivaldi's Four Seasons and the music of other remarkable but lesser known composers like Francesco Durante
and Pietro Antonio Locatelli
On Tuesday, Father Mark and his dog Bear let us in through the sacristy door of St James'Anglican Church in Vancouver. Violinists Lucinda Moon and Paul Luchkow, violist Glenys Webster, my granddaughter Rebecca and I entered the darkened church. Father Mark turned on the lights and we recognized our old friend, built between 1935 and 1937. We were there to take the picture you see here (Glenys Webster, left, Paul Luchkow, right, Lucinda Moon, centre). The idea is to tell a few more people of the wonders to be heard at this most interesting Vancouver church.
Rebecca already knows about St James as we attend all the unannounced (relatively) Pacific Baroque Orchestra
concerts held here. She likes to visit the belfry (during concert intermissions) with the woman who has the key, Patricia Canning. Both Rebecca and I scrape the filling off the Oreo cookies served with coffee and tea at the concert intermissions. We have discussed how interesting it is to know that a most English church is dedicated to a most Spanish saint, Santiago
. But then a few of us know that the English architect Adrian Giller Scott was most Catholic. Rebecca and I have gone through every Station of the Cross. St James' Anglican is as close to being Catholic without being so! Musicians who play here have given the church an affectionate nickname, "St James Smoky". Patricia Canning (she lives nearby and volunteers her services at St James) told me the smoky smell comes from the high quality true Omani frankincense that is burned during services.
One of the singular pleasures I enjoy in Vancouver is to listen, from the front row, to my favourite baroque music played live at such intimate concert halls as the UBC Recital Hall, the UBC Chapel and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra's
yearly series held on Saturdays at St Augustine's Catholic Church and on Sundays at West Vancouver United Church. It is even more intimate since I know all of the musicians as I have been attending the PBO concerts since 1992. After the performances we like to linger and ask the musicians questions about the music and their instruments. Soon they are your friends. During the last four years I have been taking Rebecca and also going with architect Abraham Rogatnick and designer Graham Walker. We four are the Three Musketeers
Rebecca asked Lucinda Moon
, the visiting soloist from the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra about her shoes. Moon described them, "They are made from a cow that didn't shave." I asked Moon how she was going to play that most beautiful Largo from Winter of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. "It will be a surprise," she said. I have attended Lucinda Moon's previous collaborations with the PBO. If you haven't be prepared to be doubly surprised.
For those who will be going to hear Corey Cerovsek
(I will be there with Rebecca and her mother Hilary) play the Four Seasons with the Vancouver Symphony
at the Chan Centre on the 22 or the 23 of December this is an excellent opportunity to compare notes and note the differences in sound and approach between Moon's baroque violin (and the other baroque strings of the PBO) and Cerovsek's "modern" “Milanollo” Stradivarius of 1728.
While I would not stop you from going to the PBO's concerts at the other two churches, St Augustine Catholic Church in Kerrisdale is particularly beautiful, you now know that on the Friday before any of the official concerts you can enjoy beginning at 7:30 pm (There is a pre-concert talk at 7) the PBO and Oreos at St James's Anglican. This does not mean that you should not pay at the door. Minors don't, but you hardworking adults can always contribute to the worthy cause of St James'Anglican. The musicians, including Paul Luchkow (see below), will smile.Baroque Volinists Marc Destrube and Bach's Brandenburg ConcertosGlenys WebsterLaura Kramer
PBO Violinist Paul Luchkow's Explanation On Series
Our "Eastside Community Concerts" series is an initiative of the PBO with the help of St. James' Anglican Church and the UBC Learning Exchange. It is funded by grants from 2010 Legacies Now, the Opportunities Fund of the Spirit of BC Arts Fund, the Hamber Foundation and the Koerner Foundation.
The program was conceived to provide regular performances of PBO's music, free of charge, for the members of Vancouver's Downtown East Side community. In this way, the PBO will share its music in a form of public art, five times this year, with a community where people may not have the financial resources to afford concert tickets but where they could, nonetheless, enjoy the many recognized benefits of exposure to live music. Pacific Baroque OrchestraSt James' Anglican Church
David Lemon on St James' Anglican Church
I like Adrian Gilbert Scott's St.James's space, square, solid and reassuring. And it's an intriguing link to the Scott family that gave us the sublime Midland Grand Hotel at St. Pancras Station in London - as both engineering marvel and scenery, and the second largest Gothic cathedral in the world at Liverpool (the number one spot being held by St. John the Divine in New York) among other gigantic and more intimate contributions to Gothic revival architecture. When I was growing up much of this was disparaged. Many of the most exuberant buildings in the big cities were then cloaked in grime and all but abandoned, and it took the best part of a hundred years to recognise that they are covered in superbly integrated ornament and redolent of a broader culture entirely missing from the cheap and dour 'fifties minimalism that masqueraded as purity. As many others do I recall with sadness the superb Doric Arch by Philip Hardwick at the entrance to Euston Station which was destroyed in 1962 to make way for the vulgar efficiencies of the age. Then, everything that paid hommage to the culture of the ages was deemed fraudulent. St.James's sits on the cusp of modernism, a bold concrete echo of Byzantium and Normandy.
Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) designed St John's College at Cambridge but is best known for his Midland Grand Hotel at London's St Pancras Station (photo, left).
One of his sons, George Gilbert Scott, Jr.(1839-1897) designed St. John the Baptist Church at Norich. He was an alcoholic. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in a bedroom of the Midland Grand Hotel which was designed by his father.
The other Scott son was architect John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913) and he designed Hereford Cathedral.
George Gilbert Scott, Jr had two sons who were both architects. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a staunch Catholic designed the Liverpool cathedral,the largest Anglican cathedral in England. He also designed the General Post Office's K2 and K6 kiosks (the ubiquitous English red telephone booths.
Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's brother, Adrian Gilbert Scott (1882- 1963) visited Canada and designed St James'Anglican.
His nephew and his brother's son, Richard Gilbert Scott runs the family firm.
My Father, Bob & I - Mashed Potatoes
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
I had never heard of the term comfort food until my wife Rosemary used it. For her it's mashed potatoes with a fried egg on top. Her mother taught her to chop up raw onion and mix it with the mashed potatoes. It would seem that even the onion makes this old standby a predictable comfort.
Art for me can also be comfort food. When I revisit a city, I rarely want to see new things. This applies to my art-gallery visits. Perhaps it is no different from my boyhood visits to the Buenos Aires Zoo were I wanted to see the lion, the tiger, the zebra as if these were Platonic absolutes. Certain works at the art galleries become old friends. In Madrid, Las Meninas
by Diego Velazquez beckons at the Prado. In Paris, I'm a sucker for the Mona Lisa
. While at the Metropolitan in New York, I spend an inordinate amount of time examining the details of Nicolas Poussin's very large Rape of the Sabine Women
. In Washington, DC's National Gallery, I never get tired of Winslow Homer's Right and Left
, two ducks askew in the air, shot by a hunter on a boat below. Closer to home, at the Seattle Art Museum, I always hope my old friend Gold Fish on Shirt
, an astounding dye transfer print by photographer Ralph Gibson, will be up on the wall.
This comfort of the familiar is what makes my family Christmas special. The routine begins with the Christmas Eve dinner and my faking, after dinner, to my now grown daughters and my two granddaughters that I am feeling drowsy and that we should open the presents on Christmas Day. The trimming of the tree a week before is pure nostalgia as the ornaments have been in the family for at least 40 years. I must admit, though a more recent routine. An almost worn-out 1979 John Denver & the Muppets Christmas
LP is our music of choice.
Coincidentally, my favourite painting from the permanent collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery is a Christmas scene. I last saw Joanne Tod's, 1983, My Father, Bob and I
(above with my friend Samuel Frid) in 1996. Since then, the enigma of the title in relation to the trio on the sofa, with the large Christmas wreath behind, has led me to enquire, usually at this time of the year, when the painting will next be on display.
Not too long ago when I called the VAG an irate PR woman shouted at me saying, "You mean that you are asking the VAG to hang a painting on demand?"
While I know that perhaps it would be too much to ask the VAG to hang My Father, Bob and I
this Christmas, I shall count on Santa interceding next year with the powers that be. Joanne Tod
Rubén Derlis - Versito - Augusto Pinochet
From the very beginning I have made the decision to never rant or get political here. My Argentine friend, retired copy editor ( El Clarin) and poet Rubén Derlis (seen here posing in my boyhood Buenos Aires train station of Coghlan) has sent me his versito
or little poem on the death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. I will not translate it into English simply because somehow our distance from Chile from here in Vancouver has perhaps cushioned our horror on the man. This poem, even if Derlis calls it with the affectionate term versito
, is a damning, almost caustic condemnation on the man. Its title translates as, "unhappiness at the death of an infamous man. Here it is:
DESALEGRÍA POR LA MUERTE DE UN INFAME
Como el agudo espanto y el dolor se consumen,
ni espanto ni dolor te aguardan. Solo y maldito seas,
solo y despierto seas entre todos los muertos,
y que la sangre caiga en ti como la lluvia,
y que un agonizante río de ojos cortados
te resbale y recorra mirándote sin término
“El general Frando en los infiernos”
Hoy tengo desalegre la alegría pero constato una certeza:
No hay justicia divina, menos un juez omnipresente;
la justicia que escape de manos de los hombres no tendrá veredicto
y el culpable quedará sin castigo.
El más allá no existe, nadie podrá cobrarle;
es en el más acá –el único posible– donde se ajustan cuentas.
Dejó una larga deuda de crímenes que ya no pagará.
No saldó ni uno solo de su reptar siniestro,
quedó a deber la sangre que bebió en años de odio.
No fue nada la muerte del infame,
la muerte nos sucede a todos.
Y el olvido caerá sobre su nombre
porque a veces la historia tiene frágil memoria.
Debió sobrevivir todas las muertes de su maldita estirpe,
de cada uno de su genealogía que después de él fueron engendrados,
sin posibilidad de ahogar su aire con suicidio.
Debió haber vivido por una eternidad de larga noche
de espesas pesadillas de vómitos y gritos.
Pero todo le resultó muy fácil, sin sobresaltos ni arrepentimiento,
de la misma manera que masacró a su pueblo.
Lo velaron como si fuera humano.
Se merecía la charca infecta y pestilente,
o el basural donde se arrojan los desechos quirúrgicos;
pero a los buitres nunca: sólo comen carroña,
apartan la inmundicia genocida, el pus dictatorial.
Cerró sus ojos amarillos de pescado podrido
pero con rostro placentero como un abuelo tierno.
Lo cremarán, para no ofender a los gusanos.
Ahora hay que vigilar al ave Fénix,
porque sus pútridas cenizas permanecerán sobre la tierra.Rubén Derlis and Friends
Seville, Oranges, La Giralda, Spooks, Robert Wilson & A Sumo Wrestler
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
My Manila born grandmother always talked about her Valencian mother and for many years I confused Valencia
. My grandmother Dolores set me straight, “La ignorancia es atrevida.”
(ignorance is daring). She told me many stories about Seville which she had visited as a little girl. Seville has captured my imagination since. From this city’s port, el Puerto de Triana
, Spain’s ships sailed down the Gualdalquivir
to the New World. It was at the Archivo de Indias
, designed by Juan de Herrera, who also designed the Escorial, where “all that was known” of the Americas was housed. My uncle, Don Luís de Miranda y Gimenes, a scholar who specialized in the naos de Manila
, the Manila galleons, that sailed back in forth to Acapulco in New Spain often told me of its wonders. Particularly wonderful were the electric blue quetzal bird feathers he had seen.
But my abuelita Lolita's
favourite story was of an event that happened during the Castilian reign of Enrique IV of Trastámara. Alonso de Fonseca, a nephew of the Seville Archbishop, was himself designated Achbishop of St James Compostela. Because there was a Galician uprising there, Alonso de Fonseca’s uncle volunteered to go in his place as long as the nephew consented to warm his seat in Seville. When the Archbishop returned to Seville Alonso de Fonseca refused to give up his seat and only did so after the pope’s intervention. Since then the saying in Spanish “El que se fue de Sevilla perdió su silla
,” or “ He who leaves Seville will lose his seat,” is used as reason for taking over a seat unknowingly left vacant at a movie or theatre.
I finally did make it to Seville in 1985 with Rosemary, Alexandra and Hilary. My grandmother would have told me, “ Asomaste el rabo,”
or that I showed my monkey tail (ignorance). I went up to the lovely Moorish bell tower of la Giralda
, which is part of Seville’s cathedral and I took many photographs of the bell including one where Alexandra is seen as a shadow. I did not know then that the tower is not named after its bell but after its weathervane or giralda
, a beautiful woman who represents faith that is on top. From the Giralda
I was able to look down on the Patio de los Naranjos
, with its long rows of orange trees and glimpses of the cathedral cloisters.
In the middle you can see the shadow of the Giralda
and part of the weathervane on the top.
We were never able to take a ride in the yellow wheeled horse drawn carriages because Hilary, 14, cried and told us the horses were being ill used.
All in all our stay was unpleasant as the city was extremely hot and the staff of the Alfonso XIII hotel, used to earlier and more opulent times when bullfighters of renown stayed there, thought that we Americans (Spaniards then had no concept of Canada) were scum.
But it is only now that I am enjoying my grandmother’s Seville. Her magical Seville is a bit on the gritty side and horrible murders happen in it with unusual frequency. It is fascinating nonetheless. It is the Seville of British author Robert Wilson's police procedurals featuring the urbane and complex Inspector Jefe
Javier Falcón whose father was a famous painter with ties to Spanish Morocco.
I had to wait for two years for Robert Wilson’s The Hidden Assassins
which is the third novel featuring Javier Falcón and his Seville which Falcón calls the hottest city in Europe. The other two novels are The Vanished Hands
(2004) and The Blind Man of Seville
(2003). What I find most interesting is that Wilson has done his homework. He explains the almost alien (but very practical) Spanish legal system. Every murder case has a Juez de Instrucción
or instructing judge. He is in charge of the crime scene and works with the homicide squad from the beginning to put together the best evidence in order to secure a conviction. When one of these jueces
cuckolds Javier Falcón the Seville Fair heats up.
This latest installment features Arab terrorists and spies who communicate through secure blogs. It is so realistically told and explained that I wonder if Robert Wilson was present in Washington DC when our very own Atom powered Tim Bray
was there to brief spooks as to the methods to be used.
Wilson’s Javier Falcón reminds me of Michael Dibdin’s Venetian born Aurelio Zen. Falcón’s views on death are similar. Here from The Hidden Assassins
:Seville – Monday, 5th June 2006, 16 hrs
Dead Bodies are never pretty. Even the most talented undertaker with a genius for maquillage cannot bring the animation of life back to a corpse. But some dead bodies are uglier than others. They have been taken over by another life form. Bacteria have turned their juices and excretions into noxious gas, which slithers along the body’s cavities and under the skin, until its drum tight over the corruption within. The stench is so powerful it enters into the central nervous system of the living and their revulsion reaches beyond the perimeter of their being. They become edgy. It’s best not to stand too close to people around a ‘bloater’.
Normally Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón had a mantra, which he played in the back of his mind when confronted by this sort of corpse. He could stomach all matter of violence done to bodies– gunshot craters, knife gashes, bludgeon dents, strangulation bruises, poisoned pallor – but this transformation by corruption, the bloat and the stink, had recently begun to disturb him. He thought it might just be the psychology of decadence, the mind troubled by the slide to the only possible end of age; except that this wasn’t the ordinary decay of death. It was to do with the corruption of the body – the heat’s transformation of a slim girl into a stout middle-aged matron or, as in the case of this body that they were excavating from the rubbish of the landfill site beyond the outskirts of the city, the metamorphosis of an ordinary man to the taut girth of a sumo wrestler.Robert Wilson
Burriana, Seville Oranges & Dundee Orange Marmelade
Since the little farming village of Burriana had no harbour curving out to protect the shore, it could have no pier; storm waves driving in from the east would periodically destroy attempts to maintain a quay. So the huge barges which conveyed the oranges to the freighter had to be loaded ashore. Each barge was hauled onto dry land and crammed with barrels containing oranges it must have weighed several tons.
'Why barrels? 'I asked, watching the procedure with binoculars. 'They are barrels, aren't they?'
Obviously when the barges were loaded they had to be dragged back into the water in order to be floated so that they could be rowed out to our ship. How to do it? In Roman times businessmen using this coast for the transfer of freight to Italy had solved the problem. They reared a breed of oxen tht thrived in salt water, and now these huge beasts, working in the sea with often only their eyes and horns visible, backed close to a barge while workmen attached chains to their harness. Then with men who also lived mostly in the sea whipping at them and cursing, the great beasts strained while everyone ashore pushed on the barge. Slowly, slowly the near-swimming oxen and the men and the shouting got the barge moving. Slowly it left the shore. The massive oxen moved deeper and deeper into the sea, so that the men directing them had to keep afloat by grasping the oxen's horns, and in this way the oranges in their steel barrels were ferried out to our ship......
I now discovered why the oranges were being delivered in steel drums, for the captain directed that a hose be thrust down into the Mediterranean where the water was clear, then ordered the deckhands, 'Knock out the bungs,'and presently all the drums were opened and I saw that the oranges inside had been cut in half. The resulting juice, of course, did not fill the barrel, and the empty space was now to be filled with sea water.
'What's the idea?'I asked.
'Everything sloshes back and forth, all the way to Dundee,'The captain said.
'To accomplish what?'
'It prepares the rind for making marmelade.'
There were two schools of thought aboard the ship. The captain held that the action of salt water ate away the pulpy part of the rind and left the skin translucent, as required in the better brands of marmelade. The pulp and juice would be thrown away. 'Nonsense,'one of the deck hands argued. 'Everything in that barrel is mixed with sugar and then boiled down to make the bittersweet taste of true Dundee Marmelade. Without the salt water it wouldn't be worth a damn.
Iberia, 1968 James A Michener
Dana Fotera & Graham Greene
Monday, December 11, 2006
I am often asked what person that I have not photographed would I like to, if I had the chance. For many years my answer was always the same, "Graham Greene." After reading my father's copy of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory
(William Heinemann Ltd. London) I read every novel, short story, travel essay and movie reviews he ever wrote plus his two-part autobiography. I had hopes that somehow I could swing this until April 3, 1991 when my favourite author, ever, died. I have treasured Paul Theroux's obituary/essay and its magnificently evocative title An Edwardian on the Concorde
even after Theroux bitterly cut up his mentor V.S. Naipaul author of that delightful A House For Mr Bis
Since 1991 I have discovered the pleasure in taking pictures of people nobody knows who just happen to be very interesting. One such person is Dana (a.k.a. Dana Fotera and alas I have never gone to Madrid to photograph her) who is a 26 year-old Madrid photographer/model. When she is not teaching kindergarten she specializes in documenting young female gymnasts. But it's her more unusual interests that interest me. She has this obsession of being photographed in the most beautiful locations in Spain by the best best Spanish photographers (above right by Jesus Cabrera). She does this without a stitch of clothing. The other talent is that she is a far better (than all those Spaniards) photographer of herself (much like Bunny Yeager) and her self-portraits are breathtaking. A few days after Christmas 2003, we became friends when we both contributed to a Spanish photography on line forum. Ever since she often sends me pictures and we exchange comments on the ones I send her.
On January 27, 2005 Dana had a heart seizure and was taken to hospital where she almost died. The doctors advised that a pacemaker be implanted. Dana almost died again on the operating table, before the knife even nicked her, by her body's ill reaction to the anesthesia. She made the decision to take her chances as is. It was about that time that she finally was able to leave home. I never understood how she was ever able to explain to her conservative and Catholic mother of her mysterious week-end trips to other cities of Spain to visit friends. Nor I was ever able to figure out how she could share her father's computer without him seeing her photographs. She now lives with acomplished photographer Teco ( Pablo Salto-Weis, photo, above left) and they shoot together. But I must again stress that the best of the photographs of this athletically built young woman, who has millions of freckles and the greenest of green eyes, renders herself best (self-portrait below). I argue (we seemed to have reached an impasse on this) that too many of her Spanish photographers treat her as a body in landscape and use flat lighting. I would like to see more dramatic lighting which just might reveal more of her obsession and her delight in being alive.
I have a new post-Graham Greene frustration. Will I ever get to Madrid and be able to see if I can outdo Dana at her own game? Perhaps if I can find as good a Rocinante as Greene's Monsignor Quixote
to get me there.
An Edwardian On The Concorde
April 21, 1991
An Edwardian on the Concorde: Graham Greene as I Knew Him
By PAUL THEROUX
I'm afraid that at the moment my health is pretty lousy," Graham Greene wrote to me not long ago from his hospital bed in Vevey, Switzerland. "I am not supposed to drink at all which is painful and my days seem taken up with blood transfusions, vitamin injections and four different kinds of pill. I suppose one could expect worse at my age."
True -- he was 86 years old when he died on April 3. But even reading that dire description I felt Greene was still indestructible, and I did not seriously fear for his life. He was unlike any other writer I have known in his being physically fit without effort. When anyone asked him how he managed to stay in such good health, he said that he ate and drank whatever he liked, and he boasted (to Fidel Castro, among others) that he never exercised. In fact, he was an energetic walker his whole life, but he loathed fresh-air fiends and he was rather stuck on the idea of being dissolute. "I'm in the mood for a pipe," he sometimes said after a good lunch; he meant opium.
Meeting him, you had the idea that Greene was someone who had had everything he had ever desired, and that it was perhaps this abundance that made him romanticize loss and failure. The idea of noble ruin appealed greatly to him, I think, because it implied struggle. He often spoke of his writer's block, and yet he was immensely productive. And nearly all his 54 books are now in print. But he did not want anyone to think his achievement had been easy for him. I am quite sure he did not care about not winning the Nobel Prize. He was much more famous for not having won it. It was a magnificent annual failure, as the committee overlooked him year after year. But since the prize is awarded on what the English call the theory of Buggin's Turn ("Isn't it time for an Albanian?"), what is it actually worth?
The first impression you had of Greene was almost heroic, a man overwhelmingly tall, staring with a kind of imperious boredom straight over your head. But who had actually laid eyes on him? He was a conspicuous absentee, like Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa ("My cousin," he said, and it was true; Christopher Isherwood was another cousin). He liked to be in Nicaragua or India when any of his books appeared. He hated television, loathed guest appearances and never promoted his books. He disliked celebrity but I think he rather fancied being outrageous, even notorious. Any literary interview with him was done on his terms -- and he deliberately made himself a bit mysterious.
"He's very, um," and then John le Carre searched for a suitable word -- we were preparing a program to discuss the great man's work -- " slippery , isn't he?" Bruce Chatwin, who had been eager to meet him, confessed to being frankly disappointed, and implied that Greene at a lecture a few years ago (he hated public speaking) had been vacant and teasing.
He was larger than life in a specific sense: 6 foot 3, the handsome, even dashing young adventurer having become distinguished and statesmanly. As for his eyes -- they were in a class with those of the celebrated theosophist Madame Blavatsky -- there is no paler or more penetrating gaze in literature. They were almost unbelievably intimidating, and it is hard to imagine anyone lying at those eyes. His brothers Raymond and Hugh were also tall and equally robust (Hugh was a bureaucrat, Raymond an endocrinologist and a mountaineer who had known Aleister Crowley, the diabolist), but they did not have the eyes.
Photographs of Greene show a severe face, befitting a Companion of Honor, but those who could call him a friend knew his solemnity was a mask. He laughed often, and his laugh was deep and appreciative. He was an unusually good raconteur and had a fund of stories, mostly traveler's tales, that had never found their way into print. One great one, about multiple murders, had as its refrain, "And I was told, nothing happens in Cordoba."
He had a comic side that was so profound it verged on sadness (comedy is very near to tragedy, he often said) and touched mania. In his autobiography, he was frank about the mania; he went further and described how he was a manic-depressive, his bipolar nature having been responsible for novels as diverse as "Travels With My Aunt" and "The Heart of the Matter," giddiness on the one hand, gloom on the other. I think his comic vein deepened as he grew older.
His biographer Norman Sherry made much of the fact that Greene sought psychoanalysis, as though he feared for his sanity. I am sure he was as much an observer on that couch as he was a patient. He was a man who seldom wasted an experience (although he went to Samoa and Tahiti and never wrote about it). He did not regard madness as a weakness or a moral fault; it was another way of seeing the world, another form of inspiration. "Much madness is divinest sense" -- that sort of thing. He was also a tremendous quoter of poetry stanzas -- Browning, Kipling and his favorite, the Earl of Rochester.
I think his conversion to Roman Catholicism was an act of rebellion -- against a family (and a country) that saw Catholics as exotic and suspect and sinister. It also gave him a sense of sin, so his villains are not simply wrong -- they are wicked and evil. This theological side of his work I find the least interesting, the most schematic. As a convert he wears his theology heavily -- I think it is often a millstone in his novels -- yet there is no question that in the English novel of his time it set him apart.
He liked thinking that he lived (to use one of his favorite lines from Browning) "on the dangerous edge of things" -- politically, morally, emotionally. But did he? It always seemed to me that Greene was rather safe, and that all this business of his being furtive, the tedious spy side of his personality, opium-eater and ponderer of damnation, was rather a pose. Perhaps he really did play Russian roulette as a young man (he gave several different versions of the story), but if so, he got a hell of a lot of mileage out of it. Dicing with death -- I do believe it was as corny as that -- is much more romantic, and it gives a biographer something to puzzle over, but isn't playing shoot-yourself-in-the-head games also very silly?
In his outlook and in his manners, in the way he ran his literary life, in his lingo and in his pleasures (he seems to have had quite an active libido), Greene was an Edwardian. He was an impressionable 10-year-old when World War I began. Most of his literary heroes were still alive when he began to read them -- Conrad, Saki, Ford Madox Ford; he was precocious enough to have ventured upon Henry James before the master died in 1916. But this man-of-letters sensibility was combined with an extraordinary zest for life -- he was an Edwardian who was perfectly happy flying to Paris or New York on the Concorde (which he did several times).
I avoided reading him for some years, because in our early married life my wife had a great fondness for his work and knew it well. She urged me to read him. I resisted. I was envious. I irrationally demanded her attention; what about my writing? This was in Africa. Eventually I read him. I began to inhabit his world, and I saw hope for myself. In that way he inspired me and gave me heart.
I was asked to interview him once in the 1970's. We met at the Ritz in London and drank. I saw him several more times. Then I realized that it was an impossible task, and that to write about him in the way of an assignment I would be taking advantage of his generosity, invading his privacy and letting the world in. And in doing so, I would lose his trust. I wanted to go on being his friend, so I turned him into a fictional character and put him in my novel "Picture Palace." He laughed about it and we remained friends.
But I think he liked putting on his mask and being a fictional character. Just the other day I read "The End of the Affair," and (his sense of place is so precise, he is so appreciative) I began to miss South London and to wonder, in a premonition of his death, what the world would be like without his gaze upon it. Temperamentally, he was much like the central character, Bendrix -- a lonely man, capable of great sympathy but with a sliver of ice in his heart. I feel lucky to have been his friend, but I doubt that I knew him -- I don't think anyone really did.
Lauren, Rebecca & The Railway Children
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Yesterday was the perfect day with my two granddaughters.
Rosemary, Lauren and I watched Rebecca in her jazz class at the Arts Umbrella on Granville Island. At the end of the year parents are invited to watch. While instructor Edmund Kilpatrick is gentle and never raises his voice, I now understand why after 90 minutes of that class Rebecca rarely wants to do much when she comes home. She gets a workout. Lauren went to a "princess tea party". She looked specially nice and a lot like her mother Hilary because of the new haircut she got with her Nana ( her other grandmother).
The best part of the day was going to Videomatica to select our Saturday afternoon movie. I chose Lionel Jeffries's 1970 The Railway Children
with Jenny Agutter. I have always loved this film and I first saw it with Rebecca and Lauren's mother Hilary and sister Ale many years ago. The film today was better than I remembered. What is remarkable is that there is no evil or evil persons to be seen (one is vaguely mentioned). The movie was too complicated for Lauren, who arrived all dressed up from her tea party. But it was just right for Rebecca who noticed that Jenny Agutter wears two kinds of sailor dresses during her performance. She agrees with me that all girls (and perhaps little boys) should wear some sort of sailor dress/suit at least once in their life. In the photo above it is the last time Rebecca wore her Mexican-bought sailor dress. It is now too small but Lauren, will wear it one day. By the time she does I am sure we will all enjoy The Railway Children
all over again.
It is difficult for me to believe that Miss Jenny Agutter (as she is listed in The Railway Children) is now 54.